Big Rides in Breckenridge. “There is no trail, you just ride the tundra to the large bush on the edge of the clearing.” My eyebrows inched up a bit and I exhaled. I trusted the skilled group of ladies I was with and just accepted the 2nd leg of our adventure. It’s all downhill from here anyway, right?
The day had started out relatively mellow, I was watering my flowers and my neighbor walked by, we chatted and she mentioned she was going on a bike ride and wondered if I wanted to go. “Sure, what time are you leaving and where is the trailhead?” “We are leaving from here around 1 pm. It will be a BIG ride, so bring water and food.” That worked for me. It was a plan.
I love where I live. The extraordinary humans that surround me do not disappoint. They don’t know they’re extraordinary, it’s just how they live and their lifestyle for the past 10, 20 or 30 years. Some of them have been riding since the late 80s before there were official trails. At that time, the trails were make-shift, over-grown mining trails. Races were just a bunch of guys and (a couple girls) who threw out a challenge at the bar the night before because they thought it would be fun. The bikes were heavy and stiff. Today, the bikes are super light with shocks and slack designs for better riding. With that, these humans love to wreck themselves on the weekend with 14-25 mile, 4+ hour fun group rides.
“My favorite days are when I am not on my phone or computer. If I can plan a day that takes me into the backcountry and truly disconnect .. that is awesome,” says Jeff Westcott, Owner of Maverick Sports Promotions. “All I am thinking about is mountain biking. It requires pure athleticism and focus. It’s like meditation or therapy to me. It’s important to note that this isn’t a hammer fest; we stop, check out where we are and chill out.”
“All I am thinking about is mountain biking. It requires pure athleticism and focus. It’s like meditation or therapy to me. It’s important to note that this isn’t a hammer fest; we stop, check out where we are and chill out.”
The lifestyle revolves around the big activities, the post-ride/run adrenaline high and relaxing-meltdown into the self-satisfaction of being physically worked. Plans for the next weekend activity-combo are cooked up mid-week during work. Don’t worry, the boss is usually in on it too.
Before reaching the summit, we climbed for nearly an hour. It goes by fast. The ride started out on the smooth, wide Wellington Trail and we get caught up on each other lives, kids, work .. etc. Soon, we transition to B&B and then lower Turk’s Trail which are a little more technical and where the climbing starts. The other ladies were still chatty, but I was concentrating on my breathing and feeling my legs burn with the warm-up.
Going up Turk’s Trail is a bit more technical than coming down. There are some cool and challenging features such as the switch-backs, short grunt climbs and a few winding, exposed sections that take my breath away. Closer to the Sallie Barber connection, the trail weaves and dips through a scree field of sharp rock. The ride/risk factor and consequence play heavy in my mind while I ride that section. I feel the sweat trickle down my back. I am not afraid to walk my bike for the sake of safety. We rest a little at the Sallie Barber/Turks intersection. I am feeling proud.
There aren’t many, but there are kids who have the stamina and motivation for Big Rides. Some will ride with their incredibly patient and fit parents, but in my experience, kids are better in a group of peers with a few adult leaders. Maverick Sports Promotions started a Big Ride Thursday for the Mountain Bike Junior Leaguers. On select Thursdays in the summer, a group of kids set out for a Big Ride with Westcott, Clay Schwark, Coach and Group Ride Leader, Uriell Carlson, Inner Wild Nutrition and SEA Coach (exceptional humans). Their routes are no shorter than 15 miles and can encompass mountain passes, steep, long climbs and technical downhills. “We started Big Ride Thursday for the accomplished kids that needed more than Monday night group rides, explains Westcott. “The Big Ride experience is more about things like route finding, mapping, survival, repair, knowing the consequences of your actions/riding while in the backcountry. It’s riding instead of training to race. We felt it was important to get kids away from the results-oriented riding environment. Its kind of old school mountain biking, harkening back to the origins of mountain biking. You just go out with some friends and have everything you need for the day. Ready for rain, injury, food, and repairs. Part of the fun is having your logistical sh*t together.”
By now, my legs are feeling warmed up and I can talk again. At the top of Sallie, we take a short break for a few photos, water, and snacks. The old mine relics are super cool and the view is awesome. I always feel better after the first big climb. It takes me that long to warm up. Nightmare on Baldy, uh oh, I mean Sweet Dreams is up next.
Officially, the name of the trail is Nightmare on Baldy, but the trail was rerouted not long ago and unofficially some now call it Sweet Dreams. Prior to the reroute, Nightmare went pretty much straight up and was loose, rocky and dusty, but the only connection to get to Baldy so riders just resigned to suffer the climb. Hence the name Nightmare on Baldy. You can still see the old trail if you look closely near the switchbacks … it looks pretty gnarly. Incidentally, a recent trail project extended Nightmare to the new Sister’s Cabin. Can’t wait to see that!
The first 100 yards of Nightmare is still a grunt, but once on the trail its a good single track with a few switchbacks and short climbs. We took another break at the top and discussed the next section which was the hardest part of the ride.
The switchbacks on Baldy are old mining roads that are not maintained. The roads are used by hikers, 4-wheelers, motorcycles, and trucks. There are sections that are larger rock and other that are just pea-gravel. I had to walk some of the steeper sections or ride on the far side in the grass. The wildflowers are amazing this time of year and the higher you go the better they get. By now we are above 11,000 ft. The air is thin and I am concentrating on not hyperventilating. I try to relax and ride consistently, weaving my tire through the mess of rocks and relaxing into the climb. I need to find my rhythm. The ladies I am with make it look so easy and they are STILL chatting! What? We stop at the top of the second switchback for a couple minutes. The road seems to get steeper ahead of us. The views are amazing.
The climb continues and there seems to be no end. I am sweaty, my legs are screaming and my heart is pumping so hard I can hear it. The breeze feels so good. Are we there yet? We take another break and I am praying this is the end of the climb, but no. There is more and by now I am asking myself, what the heck am I doing here? We are way above Breckenridge now and can see all the way to Buffalo Mountain in Frisco. It feels remote even though I know where we are and how to get back to town. I have to focus to finish this climb. It sucked but was do-able. At the top, it felt like I have just finished a marathon! I am proud and high on endorphins. All I want is water. My friends were all hanging out enjoying the stunning view and snacking of various energy bars. We did it! How fortunate we are to live in such a place. We sat there for a good fifteen minutes, resting, chatting, drinking water and feeling grateful.
The descent and route back home were totally foreign to me. We descended down the backside of Baldy. There was no trail at times and we had to hike-a-bike over a ridge and down into a small bowl before connecting with what looked like an animal trail to a very rough, steep and unmaintained road with a creek running through it, small boulders to miss. We were flying down this section. I just thanked the universe for my amazing Yeti and held on for dear-life. I had no idea where we were or how to get home. I was totally relying on my friends to guide us in the right direction. It would be so easy to get lost back there.
The trail network in Breckenridge and Summit County is extensive and remote. Way-finding, maps, and knowledge of the terrain are key to any Big Ride. Going out without the right tools, supplies, and knowledge can be dangerous not only for yourself but also for the people you are with. If you don’t have the knowledge or know someone who has experience with remote rides in Breckenridge and Summit County there are other options.
The Breck Epic is perfect for those riders who want to do some big rides with friends and have the course mapped, aid stations and even medical available if needed. The Breck Epic is a race, a 6-day stage race that covers some amazing and remote terrain in Breckenridge. Don’t be fooled, its tough, but it will get you to those remote and amazing trails above tree-line and in the backcountry.
Another option is to hire a guide company. The Town of Breckenridge and Summit County require permits for guided tours in the backcountry. Permits are awarded to only a few. Colorado Adventure Guides is one of those few who has permits to guide in the county and they have experienced guides who know the area and the terrain.
Big Rides vary in mileage, terrain and skill level. You can map out a Big Ride from town and stay below tree-line or plan a more intense ride that requires logistics, maps, and planning. Most importantly, know where you are going, plan and be aware of your surrounds. We are fortunate to have access to the incredible network of trails in Breckenridge and Summit County. Let’s take care of our backyard.
Enjoy the Climb.